The best local Asheville Breweries.
Wait, Asheville! Before you sharpen your pitchforks and prepare to burn me at the artisan Asheville stake, let me clarify a few things about this post. This isn’t a list from a one time visitor to our beloved city who is graciously blessing us with his darling opinion. Through the growth we’ve experienced in my adventures working for the Dig Local App, as their first employee, and a born and raised resident, I have frequented all breweries in Asheville many, many times as they are one of our highest searched categories and we help promote them to tourists and locals. However, I must you remind you, that even though I work with these breweries, frequent them more than I probably should, and have been around Asheville since before we even got our first brewery, my opinion IS STILL SUBJECTIVE. While my favorite style of beer tends to lean towards a good west coast style IPA, I do enjoy all types of beers, so it will be judged broadly. This is a list that if I had a friend coming in town with a few days to spare and they said, “Stephan, take me to the best breweries in town, and go in order from 10 to 1 with a set list of constraints based on your criteria for a great establishment,” I would reply with “Wow, you are a really specific gender neutral friend that seems to have a touch of OCD and I don’t know how we became friends anyway, but okay, let’s do this”. So, if that’s what you are looking for in a beer blog this one is the way to go. A lot of blood, sweat that smells of hops, and late nights have went into the making of this list, so I ask that you keep your pitchforks in the barn where they belong and have some fun. Let it be noted that this will be breweries within a 20 minute drive of Asheville and there are some really, really great ones around the hour mark which we will save for a later day. Here is how I am going to judge the breweries:
. Well, obviously. This is the highest scored category and makes the most difference when judging a brewery. Also let it be noted that I am judging the beer on site, not what’s in distribution. Yes, there is a variation between bottled and canned beer, and the ones on draught. A subcategory of Beer is the consistency of its quality. My top choice as of the past few years actually slipped a couple spaces because of their flagship brews changing a bit too much the past few seasons. I feel that consistent quality control is a huge deal.
. Most brewery owners in Asheville take pride in their taprooms, as they should because they need to accompany our 27,000 visitors we have every day. Oh, and you know and our locals too because we need fun places to hang out, and some important things to me are not just feeling like I’m drinking in a basement and giving people a cool place they are actually going to want to bring people to.
. Can’t have those beers if you don’t get them served to you. Not a huge category, but it still matters.
Shall we get started?
10. Hi-Wire Brewing
When I think Hi-Wire, I think consistency. What you get in a 2013 Hi-Pitch IPA, you will still get in a 2016 Hi-Pitch IPA. Fantastic tasting beer and their distribution might be the most impressive of anyone on this list. On a recent trip to Nashville (5 hours from Asheville), I found Hi-Wire in several stores and they have only been around since 2013. 3 years is a pretty impressive short period to already be distributing all over the Southeast. I also love their marketing. The branding really sticks out, so, if you are a sucker for a well branded product as unique and distinguishable as the city it was born in, then Hi-Wire will never let you down. One great move that Hi-Wire made was coming out with the Hi-Wire Lager, which a lot of people don’t realize is actually one of the hardest styles of beer to brew. When you think typical craft beer, lager is certainly not the first to come to mind because perfecting it is extremely difficult, and its lighter flavor is more often associated with large domestic brands. With high gravity and higher hopped beers you can mask a lot of the flavor if you get part of the process slightly off. But with lighter lager style beers, there isn’t as much room for error and Hi-Wire has gotten it right. It drinks exactly like a lager should: stable, lean, and a perfect blend of hop bitterness. The environment is pretty standard, not a huge room but there is a video game system on the bar you can play and tables for groups. They did just open a new second facility on Biltmore avenue in their new production facility, so I’ll be sure to update this when I go there.
Favorite Beer: I’ll still take the Bed of Nails Brown over the lager any day, but urge you to try the lager while you are there, as the rest of the Asheville beer scene is going to be slim(mer) pickings for the lager seeker.
9. Twin Leaf Brewery
Down in our famous “South Slope” area where we have the highest concentration of breweries lies a great little gem called Twin Leaf Brewery. This is one of my favorite spots to kick off the night and see what Tim’s got brewing on the small batch beers for the week. I’m going to be honest, when Twin Leaf first came to Asheville I thought the beer was pretty mediocre and the facility didn’t have a lot of appeal, but seriously, every time I go here it keeps getting better. Maybe in a year or so it could move up a few notches on the list. What Twin Leaf has is ambition, and it is reflected in the beer as well as the atmosphere. When I first went there my first complaint was, “Well I guess we can sit here at this table and look at the cool wooden wall and drink beer” in a sarcastic tone that I hoped had properly reflected my distaste for bars that have nothing to do other than to talk or stare at your beer. I talk all week for a living. I at least want some darts or something! Well apparently some other people said the same thing, because now it has a ping pong table (one of the 3 places in Asheville, yes I’m counting), is the self proclaimed giant Jenga capital of Asheville and even sporting some tournaments, a fooseball table, food trucks on a lot of nights a week, some really neat decor, live music, and since its open air between the taproom and barrel system, the sweet aroma of hops is always present in the air. I personally love that in a brewery. The beer is very eclectic, you will find anything from a Belgian wit to a pale ale, and the small batches are constantly rotating and have new things to offer to keep all of us frequent visitors interested.
Favorite Beer: Mexican Chocolate Stout. Incredible dark stout that will please any lover of stouts with a bitter chocolate taste that finishes with some spicy heat without overwhelming. A fantastic starter beer to the evening to kick off your brewery tour day.
8. Asheville Pizza and Brewing
Asheville Brewing might be the king of having the most fun environment of all the local Asheville Breweries. No I take that back, they are the king. They have two locations and the more entertaining of the two is not in downtown Asheville, but rather about 10 minutes north of downtown on Merrimon avenue. How much fun you say? How about a movie theater with $3 MOVIE NIGHTS EVERY DAY AND A PIZZERIA AND AN ARCADE ROOM?? If you were feeling really down about being old and boring, APB came along and said “Hey, we decided to take all the best things from your childhood: pizza, arcade fun, and movies, and add beer so this getting older thing won’t be so bad”. This is a locals favorite, and don’t feel bad if you’ve had too many at Twin Leaf beforehand, because you followed my list perfectly like a good little blog reader and you can’t drive. The downtown location is pretty sweet too and has a pizza buffet for lunch! Both of the locations are super kid friendly too. I love, love, love their branding. It is absolutely top notch, which focuses on pop and cinema culture references that are usually blended with the names of the beers. Working in marketing, as well as my humor taste usually incorporating music and pop culture references, being for the most part dry, and having a touch of wonderful ADHD, makes me really, makes me really love APB’s approach to their branding and their use of social media (you absolutely must check out their social media profiles). Oh yeah, onto the beer. APB is one of the most distributed canned beers around the Asheville area and have become known for that, but everything you have from them is going to be solid. Probably their most well known beer in town is the Ninja Porter, which is a fantastic and consistently good beer. I’ve been drinking it as long as I’ve been drinking beer and the quality has never waned. Being more of a hop-head I usually go for a good Shiva IPA, which is a classic crisp IPA with a citrusy finish. When I think Shiva, I think of Asheville summer festivals, hanging out at the Bywater Bar on summer nights, or floating on the river. All of which are things I will most likely be covering later on in the blog. Verdict: APB is the hilariously creative brewery that won “Class Clown” in the Brewery Yearbook and made something of themselves. They became a great staple of Asheville that we love. Us locals are proud of you, APB.
Favorite Beer: The Perfect Day IPA can usually make my day a whole lot more…well, perfect.
7. Highland Brewing
I knew this list was going to be hard to make, I’m sitting here trying to figure out how on earth Highland is just at number seven but in all seriousness, its just because all these breweries are nothing short of amazing. Highland is our OG’s of brewing here in Asheville. Started by Oscar Wong in the basement of Barley’s Taproom using retrofitted dairy equipment in 1994, Highland paved the way for our beer scene here in Asheville and for that, we are eternally grateful. Now, they boast a 50 barrel brewing system, full brewery tours, a massive event space, food trucks on deck, live music, and an awesome outdoor space with an outdoor bar built with repurposed shipping containers with plenty of room for the dogs and kids to run around. They now have a 3 barrel pilot system as well as a place where the brewers can experiment and make small batch beers, which are of incredible quality. Highlands is a little further out of town, about 10 minutes east, but a short drive or cab ride (by this point in the list you should probably be taking a cab, these high gravity local beers will be getting to you). Highland makes a beer that causes a ruckus that no other beer in Asheville can claim. Around mid November, everyone in Asheville is posting about it on social media, searching for it, and selling off their first borns to find a case of it. There’s even a twitter page dedicated to tracking where it is distributed. They are looking for it in bars, buying it all out of stock in the grocery stores, and bar owners are stashing it away so that they can release it in the spring and summer to bring people out of hiding for a taste of it. This beer is the Cold Mountain Winter Ale, and every year its the most sought after beer in Asheville. I’ve seen our grocery stores sell thousands of dollars worth of it in one hour in Weaverville, 20 minutes outside of Asheville. Why the hype? Because it’s almost a perfect beer. It’s like drinking a liquid Christmas tree, but in a good way. Like, if you wanted to drink a Christmas tree and that wasn’t considered an issue by the general public. Medium bodied with hints of toffee, caramel, sweet vanilla, a perfect blend of tart and sweet with (my favorite part) piney hops lasting throughout. Looking for the perfect Christmas gift this year? Get it while it lasts! Most people know Highland from the Gaelic Ale which is a widely distributed flagship ale that never changes in quality and can be enjoyed by anyone in the beer world.
Favorite Beer: Well if you didn’t already guess, Cold Mountain. Get you some!
6. Catawba Brewing Company
While Catawba Brewing is new to downtown Asheville, it isn’t to the Western North Carolina region. They got started brewing just down the mountain in a little town called Morganton in 1999 and have grown a huge deal since then. Their new South Slope location in downtown Asheville is one of the nicest taprooms around, and I would easily give it cleanest taproom in Asheville, as well having a great staff . Live music and food trucks on deck at all times, too. Catawba has really blown the doors off the distribution game lately, too. I mean, you can find their canned beers everywhere in WNC now and what’s impressive is no matter what your taste is, Catawba has a beer for you. When I last talked with Billy Pyatt, one of the owners, I told him I had never seen a beer for people that “didn’t like craft beer” that they actually enjoy like White Zombie. It’s a beautifully made Belgian Witbier that is light bodied with additions of coriander and orange peel which make this one of the most drinkable beers that can be enjoyed by an extremely wide range of people. Bring your Aunt Linda here who stubbornly refuses to drink beer to get her started on her path of redemption from box wine. You will thank me later. Other great ones are: Farmer Teds Farmhouse Ale, my fishing and summer volleyball beer, Reddiculous, a beautiful and complex Red IPA which flows with wonderful cascade hops and is my usual choice when I visit the taproom, and Mother Trucker Pale Ale, my official beer of the amazing Carolina Panthers 2015 season and my NFL gameday beer. Yes, I am a superstitious person and it will be my 2016 Panthers beer as well. Going to save the last one for my favorite…
Favorite Beer: Peanut Butter Jelly Time Brown Ale. When I first had this beer, my first thought was HOW IS THIS EVEN POSSIBLE?? It’s crazy. You can taste the raspberries first, then the peanut butter, and I swear it even finishes with the crust. It’s a perfectly layered beer that is still light and drinkable. It’s a must drink. Release date is March 4, and its a rotating tap, so make sure you plan accordingly if you don’t want to miss it!
5. Wicked Weed Brewing
Wicked Weed came riding into Asheville about four years with the subtlety of a Sharknado and shook the beer scene in its boots. They dropped a brewery right on Biltmore Avenue in one of the most accessible pieces of real estate in the 828, threw in a restaurant, and three years later apparently decided they would just throw in a second brewery in the emerging South Slope Area that specializes in Sour and Barrel aged beers, because the Wicked Weed folks kind of just do what they want. They didn’t start small, they came out swinging and dropping lots of money and so far its worked for them. If you read any lists from other writers that probably aren’t local and only visit Asheville occasionally, or really just like the hype, then Wicked Weed is probably going to be on the top three of every Asheville Brewery list. That may be rightfully so, because they boast some of the best and most experimental beer in the world. I will go ahead and be honest because I know people that know me will bring it up and admit that I can be somewhat indifferent towards Wicked Weed as some other locals are as well. Being in its location it’s demographic is going to be much more tourist oriented and they have just now added corn hole boards and expanded the outdoor section so that I’m not forced to just talk to people in a small space downstairs over music that’s normally too loud to talk anyway, or feel like I’m in more of a restaurant upstairs. I dislike when a places music is too loud to really talk to people but there isn’t really anything else to do so you kind of just stand there and aggressively drink at each other. And if you go there on a Friday or Saturday night from March until October, you better be ready to wait. Okay, okay, its out of my system. Wicked Weed is on this list because the beer is just insanely high quality. You can tell they use the highest quality ingredients possible and take their craft seriously. Freak of Nature IPA is an example of a staple beer, its what makes Asheville great. It forces all the breweries to compete and get on that level of sophistication that Asheville beer is at and keeps us up as the best beer scene in the world. If Belgian and Saisons are your choice of beer, Wicked Weed is going to be either your first or second best option. First is coming up later, at number one overall. If you love sour or incredibly complex barrel aged beers you have no other choice. The Force will lead you to Funkatorium, which is their South Slope location. These are the Sours you are looking for, and by far your best option in Asheville.
Favorite Beer: Pernicious IPA. Super dry hopped Indian Pale Ale that is a mix of tropical and american hops. A staple to West Coast style IPA’s that are made right here in Asheville.
4. French Broad Brewing
French Broad Brewery is the guy sitting on the porch of his Asheville home he’s owned for years before it was cool to live in Asheville and is yelling for Wicked Weed to get off his lawn and telling Hi-Wire to turn his music down. And I love it. A lot of people will probably disagree with my placement on this list ahead of the preceding entries, but to that I exclaim: get off my blog lawn!! I do what I want and French Broad knows their craft and produces a top quality product year after year and have been doing it long before any of these youngsters have. It would honestly probably be an entry higher if they had an environment, but being one of the smallest breweries on this list as far as taproom space goes it can only fit a very limited number inside. They don’t need to though, as their beer is everywhere around town and the cans are in most all the stores. One of the main reasons they are so high on the list for me is they hold the candle for best staple beers in a several beer categories. Best Scotch Ale, Kolsch, ESB, and Octoberfest beer in town. Pretty impressive little list if you ask me. If you are here during the spring through fall season, you must come to one of our minor league baseball teams games and enjoy a good Wee-Heavier scotch ale. It’s perfect for catching a great mid afternoon buzz quickly, as it boasts a 7% ABV. The Gateway Kolsch is perfect for people that enjoy lighter beers and traditionally have drank more lagers and are wanting something in between a lager and more traditional hopped ales. Grab one and hop on the lawnmower and have a great Saturday, guaranteed. The Thirteen Rebels is the best ESB in town and is a crowd pleaser, enjoyed by an extremely wide range of beer palates. And lastely…
Favorite Beer: Good. Gosh. The 2014 Zepptemberfest was possibly my favorite seasonal beer I’ve ever had in Asheville. I mean it blew my mind how good it was. I have to be completely honest and thought that the 2015 batch wasn’t quite as solid as the year before but I’m sure it could have just been the tap system from where I had it, but its a must try. Blows the doors off any other Octoberfest style beer I’ve had in Asheville. It’s sweet with loads of malt and caramel with a medium body and the spices make it finish beautifully. Find a good camping spot in Pisgah National forest in September with your best friends, fire up a campfire, and pop open a few of these. You’ll be quitting your job to move to the mountains in no time.
3. One World Brewing
One World takes the top of my most frequented Brewery list. If your goal is to go out and find me at a brewery on any given night in Asheville, your cards will best be played on betting to see me at One World. It might be the best blend of beer, environment, and service around, as well as convenience. Most of the breweries in Asheville are either on the South Slope or a few minutes on the outskirts of town for obvious reasons but One World is smack dab in the middle of downtown Asheville. Like maybe the most centralized spot in Asheville. Nestled on the corner of Patton and Biltmore Avenue, the entrance can be easy to miss as to get to the there you have to go down the alley in between Salsa’s and Farmburger. There a friendly bearded man named Dorcy will check your ID, open up the hobbit looking door, and you descend two flights of stairs underground into the brilliant little space to a beer drinkers haven. There is a large dark wooded dimly lit bar and you can see right into the brewing operation, there are tables for your group, or the bar is large enough for you to stay close to the service which is the best service of all the breweries in town. Seeing as I frequent another bar close by and don’t want to hurt any feelings, I will say that Kelly and the One World crew and this other bar close by are my favorite friendly hometown bartending crews and make the experience of being in One World a pleasure every time. They are sporting a 1.5 barrel system, which technically makes them a nano-brewery, not a micro-brewery, so if you are looking for One World beers on sale in any stores close by you will be out of luck. The advantage that it brings is a constantly rotating number of taps that have a few of the rotating flagships but overall an extremely eclectic mix of brews that are experimental and the passionate beer lover can always find something new to try here. My favorite styles to have here are (obviously) the IPA’s, they have a killer Farmhouse Ale, and the Stouts are up there with some of the best in Asheville as well. They also have a game of some shuffleboard origin that I don’t understand at all and darts, as well as live music many nights of the week for you restless people such as I that need to be doing something constantly. Man. This is just a great spot. The owners Jay and Lisa can be frequently seen hanging out in the bar and are always willing to sit and talk and have a pint with the patrons of the bar and love to talk process of how the beer is made and upcoming projects as well. To me, this fairly new brewery encompasses what I love about my hometown and makes this a truly great brewery as well as taproom: A comradely and charm from all the staff and owners, consistently good beer who’s brewers aren’t afraid to experiment and break new ground, and just a crazy good location. Do not skip this place if you are in Asheville.
Favorite Beer: Queen of the Forest IPA. If you are able to catch this one in the rotation its amazing. It’s a bit of a lighter bodied IPA with a lot of fruity tones, I love to sneak down underground to the warm brewery and have a couple when the weather starts to cool down.
2. Pisgah Brewing
Pisgah is arguably the most independent brewery around town, it pretty much does everything different. From its slogan of “We all drink downstream”, to it’s completely random location in Black Mountain about 20 minutes outside of downtown Asheville, to its massive music event space, Pisgah is a refreshing break from the norm of breweries. Pisgahs focus is certainly more so on distribution rather than taproom sales, although the taproom is pretty great. It has 24 tap handles, a nice outdoor area with picnic tables and fire pit, and usually some of my favorite food trucks hanging around as well. But I do declare, Pisgah beer is probably the most consistently good beer in Asheville. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever had an average or below average beer at Pisgah. Even my number one choice coming up I can’t say that for. The Pisgah Pale is THE standard Pale ale in Asheville. I promise you, if I don’t want to deal with trying something new and I see the Pisgah Pale on a tap, you can bet money that’s the beer I’m going for because I know what I’m getting into. I’m getting into something great. In a can or on tap, its a very, very important Asheville beer that I would say is as influential as the Highland Gaelic Ale. The other reason Pisgah is number two on my list is the event space. Yes, most breweries in Asheville are going to have an area for bands to play. But Pisgah Brewing is the number one outdoor stage in the Western North Carolina area. The outdoor stage can hold something like 3,000 people and they get some incredible acts. Last year I saw Old Crow Medicine Show, Trampled By Turtles, Devil Makes Three, and mourned my loss of getting to see JJ Grey and Mofro or The Wood Brothers as I was out of town. Those are names that hardly ever frequent our little town but the outdoor stage at Pisgah is just something else. It’s beautiful and the outdoors around it are great, but its still an accessible drive from Asheville and not a terrible cab ride back if you need to (you probably need to). The tour dates for 2016 are up and if you want to see Trampled By Turtles, The Devil Makes Three, or The Punch Brothers you need to get them tickets! I’ll be seeing you there. You can buy me a beer for making this awesome list for you.
Favorite Beer: The Red Devil Belgian Ale. I could drink this stuff for desert every meal but I probably shouldn’t. It boasts a 9% gravity and a pound of raspberries and cherries per gallon, which leaves you with a mischievously strong ale that finishes perfectly in the middle of tart and sweet.
1. Burial Beer
Everyone stand up, the new king of Asheville beer is here. Born on the Southslope with a one barrel system and only open a few hours a day, Burial Beer was a true started-from-the-bottom story. Burial encompasses everything that is on this list that is important in a making the perfectly well rounded brewery: Beer that is made to perfection with a the highest level of craft and creativity, a brilliant taproom, fantastic service, and marketing and branding that is distinct and fits the product meticulously. When you first walk in to the brewery you will notice the branding right away because its impossible to miss the Gothic, New Orleans style drawings on the cans, the scythe logo, an industrial feel of the taproom that bleeds directly into the ten barrel brewing system, the stainless bar, and a taplist written on what looks like an old church bulletin. There are communal style benches throughout the taproom and if you head on to the back it opens up into an outdoor space which can probably hold another seventy or so people outside on the lawn, with a back porch deck in the process of being made to hold even more people. Burial is one of those that had to have come together like a symphony, there might not have been a plan from the beginning but once all the pieces started to fall together they all fell into the right place and now they make beautiful beer music. I love beer music. From the bottom up all the beer and look and feel of the brewery they just, they fit. The beer styles are fairly broad with a concentration on farmhouse ales, German lagers, and American craft. There is something for everyone here though. It’s impossible to miss their complete attention to the craft and detail, and apparently hard for celebrities to not notice it as well because there has been a string of big name celebrities in there lately that keep showing up on my Facebook feed. Burial encompasses everything that the Asheville beer scene is. It’s creative, its original, and articulately made. If you made it to this part of the list, congratulations. You have seen the best ten breweries in Asheville. Now go buy you a sixer of that Burial Beer and take it home to show your friends what a champion you are and proclaim yourself the rightful Kings and Queens of the Asheville Beer Scene.
Favorite Beer: It’s a two way tie between the Surf Wax IPA and the Skillet Doughnut Stout. If you want to feel like you stepped onto a California beach at sunset and the perfect beer magically appeared in your hand, then this is the beer you are now holding. Heady, dry hopped, and a strong aroma of Nelsin hops, if you pour it in your ear you will hear the North California waves. Or maybe that’s just beer in your ear and you shouldn’t take my advice so literally. The Skillet Doughnut Stout is completely different, it’s heavy, dark, has the beautiful aroma of my other beverage love (coffee), and even comes with a doughnut. This is the perfect breakfast beer.
That’s a wrap my fellow beer lovers. Still want to yell at me over my list order? Decided to start sharpening your pitchforks again because your choice wasn’t on my list? Hey I’m all ears! I will let you know however, I am a much better listener if you take me out for a beer. Make sure to check out our Dig Local app in the beer category so you can find the breweries and see what they have going on. Thanks friends!
Until my next list is out, have fun out there visitors and AVLiens. Remember that sharing is caring and if you want more of this type of thing, share and follow my blog!